Saturday, January 05, 2013


Edwyn Collins' "A Girl Like You" is a track I have loved since I heard it on the Empire Records (1995) soundtrack. Later, it was used in the Charlie's Angels' sequel (2003) soundtrack, which, despite its (spot-on) cheesiness, is still a killer movie.

The darkness of "A Girl Like You" is fantastic. It throws minor chords at you like you're in a batting cage of despair, but with a sparce but meaty drum rhythm, keeping it peppy. It seems like the grim answer to Cake's "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" cheeriness. Both songs say the same thing: "Damn, girl!", but Collins takes to a dark place, and I love that. For all of Cake's heys! and hos!, Collins uses gothic chorals, and for Cake's vibraslap, Collins pulls out an old vibraphone, for a retro lounge sound. The vibes make it sound like the song playing in Don Draper's bad acid trip, but rubber-band wow-wow-wow walkdown after verse lines keeps it contemporary.

Here's the official video, but it's dated and not super. Above is the one I prefer to watch, because the live version is so spot-on, full of frenetic urgency, but maintains all the darkness. I'm not fussed about some of the guitar solos, but it evens itself out. [shrug] The only true drawback is the vibraphone is not live. On the recording it's played by the Sex Pistol's drummer(!).

Finally, on a little Speech Pathology note, Collins had a stroke in 2005 and suffered from aphasia afterward. He was recovered remarkably, but imagine how devastating that kind of brain injury would be to a musician.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Reason #76 I Love PEI.

On PEI, drivers pull over for emergency vehicles. Of course they do. Ambulances, police cars, fire trucks. [shrug] No big deal. Everyone does this everywhere civilized driving takes place.

P.E. Islanders also pull over for funeral processions.

There is an understanding that there is nowhere you have to get so soon that is more important than expressing condolence for a community member. It's a nod. It's a bow. A doffing o' the cap.

I've joined my community members in participating in this tradition both on the streets of Charlottetown and out on the highways, pulled over in a long, stationary queue along the soft red shoulders.

Hearses don't have sirens. The don't look different in your rear-view mirror from a black car. They do have little blue flags and dozens of mourners driving behind them. They don't ask you to pull over. We just do.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

GD Clarinet Guy.

Holy Effing Christ.

At the Box Office at the Confederation Centre of the Arts, we have a parasite problem. We've had the same problem for years.

Clarinet Guy is back.

He's a busker. He plays clarinet. Loudly. And shrilly. And interminably. 

At 10:35 this morning, 10:35 am on a Sunday morning in downtown Charlottetown, this guy was out there. My co-workers and I heard the first shrill refrain, looked at each other and groaned. "Really? So early? Today?"

He stands outside our theatre, driving us absolutely nutty, feeding off the traffic in and out of our doors. People throw him a quarter, or a loonie, and go on with their lives and forget about him, but for those of us who are a trapped audience, it's agony.

The Box Office is at the bottom of a concrete stairwell leading down from the street. He perches at the top of the stairs, and the concrete bounces his caterwauling back and forth until it is amplified and funnelled through the doors to our last raw nerves.

I don't claim to have an especially trained ear, but I think I can generally tell when something is good or not. The thing is, all the bullshit improvisation and glissandi make it sound like he's skilled, but I tend to think of it as all flourish and little technique.

Right now, he's out there playing "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" for the 4,000th time this year.

You may think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not. He plays three songs. "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and "La Vie En Rose." He stretches out each song to about 12 minutes. Three to four hours a day, three songs, five or six times a day... ok, I'm clearly exaggerating, but still! A lot!

I've been told he's the only busker to hold a licence in Charlottetown, and it's specifically for our corner. I've also been told he has chased off other buskers in the past. I assume complaining to the City of Charlottetown will be fruitless if he is licenced. There was an awesome banjo player there last fall, and Clarinet Guy ran him off. Bah.

So, in closing, residents and visitors of Charlottetown, I implore you: please don't throw change in his hat. It only encourages him.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Body Movin'.

In the last couple of years, much to my glee, Charlottetown has installed some roundabouts. You might know them as rotaries or traffic circles. Like my post on revolving doors, there are practical and environmental implications.

I flippin' love roundabouts. I am a big fan. Nothing moves traffic like a roundabout. They cut down on idling, unlike traffic lights. Charlottetown is notorious for having a surfeit of traffic lights. I've heard that truckers hate the city, because they have so many gears, and it takes forever to get back up to speed.

(I am convinced that in about ten years' time, a scandal will come to light showing that politicians on PEI held stock in a traffic light production company. They're lining their pockets as we speak, punctuating our streets, all under the guise of traffic safety. Mark my words.)

I learned how to use roundabouts when I lived in England. Driving all backwardsy, of course. Anyhow, here on the Island, I just have to scream at people who cannot seem to understand how to use them.

Here are the only rules:

*When you're in the circle, you have the right-of-way.
*When you're entering the circle, yield to those in the circle, because THEY HAVE THE RIGHT-OF-WAY!!!

Something Prince Edward Island drivers have not cottoned on to is that you have to treat roundabouts like any other intersection and indicate your intention. If you're turning left or right at the roundabout, let the drivers around you know with your indicators, and also indicate when you're leaving the roundabout, too. Wikipedia has a great animated use-of-roundabout guide, complete with indicator use.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Today, the title track from Madman Across the Water, Elton John's fourth full album. Madman has "Levon" and "Tiny Dancer," which we all know "very well," but I think "Madman Across the Water" is a real star. It's kinda like Elton's version of a slow jam.

It starts with typical John sound: quiet, with some agile vocals, piano, drums, and a recurring theme climbing on the low end of the fuzzy guitar.  But at about two minutes in, the strings come in, and they are not there just for moody effect. Listen to the nimble orchestrations at 2:20, playing back and forth with the guitar and organ. The low-end of the string sting! punctuation at 4:30 and the purposeful dance of the instruments at 5:00 make me crazy. I can picture the furious, strong bowing of the musicians (although they may be synth in this song, I'm not sure).

We know Elton John is a musical visionary, but "Madman Across the Water" makes it so clear that we can't just listen to his greatest hits. There is so much to find in the other tracks.

Apparently "Madman" is a left-over track from Tumbleweed Connection (probably my second-favourite Elton John album), an album I strongly urge you to listen to. When you do, you'll be able to hear similarities, although "Madman" was re-worked for Madman.

PS: Tonight is the season finale of the season 5 of Mad Men. Coincidence? Actually, yes. If I were less transparent, I'd try to make it seem like design. Alas, no.



Tuesday, May 29, 2012


When I started working as an usher at the Confederation Centre of the Arts, we had an honest-to-goodness electromagnet in our office. It was used to wipe clean film without manually opening a guest's camera, but mostly, we just played with it. My favourite game was to see how far we could hold the magnet from the metal waste-paper bin to make it clatter across the floor and slam into the device.

It was very unusual to have to destroy film. It rarely came to that, and when it did, it was the manager's Schadenfreude-filled responsibility. As the theatre-goers arrived, we told them not to use their cameras, there was a bilingual announcement before the show, and if a flash went off, we ushers were trained to descend like samurai and tell them to knock it the hell off. It was only the defiant repeat photographer that had his or her camera confiscated and the film destroyed.

The core problem involves the image, of course. The set, the lighting design, and the staging are all protected by copyrights, and the performers are very hesitant to not have control over their images.

Besides the more legal stuff, it's hella distracting to an actor when a flash goes off. If you've ever been in a spotlight, you know that you're working half-blinded; the lights flood your retinas to the point where the audience disappears into an inky abyss. When a flash comes out of that void, it can be very discombobulating. I mean, these performers are seasoned professionals - they're not going to wander, dazed, fall off the stage and into the orchestra pit - but it takes a lot of mental energy to do these shows, and a distraction is a distraction.

It's different, now, with accessible digital cameras and "cameras" in every phone. Where the image was the primary problem and the flash was secondary, now, we have a tertiary issue of audience distraction from glowing LCD screens. Our lizard brains (moth brains?) are so drawn to glowing screens, no matter how amazing the show is, live, on stage, it's very difficult to look away from the tiny-but-shiny glow three rows ahead.

Let me end with this thought: as a spectator, why must we document shows?

Is it to remind ourselves we were there? Maybe the show's not worth going to if we're worried we'll forget.

Is it to share the experience with others? If so, is even a little bit of sharing also showing off? Honestly?

If it's because we're enjoying the show so much, we'll want to see it again, let's consider what quality of experience that will be: the person recording the show is cheated out of the real deal, distracted by the task of recording a tiny, 2D image instead of enjoying the live performance.

Maybe we do it simply because we can. Perhaps soon the novelty of "document & share" will wear off and we can watch a show like a Greek in an ancient open-air amphitheatre would have. I have to be patient. We may come to our senses in a few decades.

I kinda like thinking about the fleeting beauty of a live experience. It's bittersweet, but I love the bittersweet.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


I started watching Castle this year. It was purely to sate the Fillion Withdrawal I felt after finishing Firefly. I don't usually watch what I call "murder shows," but Castle had some charm and humour, so I was satisfied.

(Beef that has since been resolved: Castle was dragging out the will they/won't they trope way too long. I didn't care if they ever got together, and it was getting hamfisted. Also, the whole "Castle's-family-is-mirroring-a-situation-from-the-precinct" stuff is played out.)

I recently read an article that referred to Fillion's co-star, Stana Katic, as a "bombshell."

I started thinking about  that word, bombshell.

When I think of a bombshell, I think curves. I think pin-ups and victory rolls. Katic is tall and extremely slender. Bombshell is not an adjective I would use to describe her. Willowy, maybe.

Scarlett Johansson, Salma Hayek, and Joan Holloway* qualify. Katic has cornered the market on a strange girlish smoulder, but not bombshell.

Fillion's still a hunk. No argument there.

*Yes, I mean Holloway. Not Hendricks.